Kawhi Leonard came out in Game 5 with a determination to end LA’s conference semifinals series on the first try.
The rest of the Clippers didn’t match his effort.
Leonard had 36 points, including three 3-pointers in the final minutes as the Clippers tried to rally late, but the team was outscored 38-25 in the final period as they blew a golden opportunity to advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. LA was up 80-67 with just over 13 minutes to play and somehow couldn’t close out the Nuggets.
It looked like the Clippers had control of this game, specifically on the defensive end. But once the threes started falling for Denver, LA’s defense became undone. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic combined for 20 points and five assists in the fourth quarter, and the pick-and-pop proved especially difficult for the Clippers to contain.
Through the first 35 minutes, it didn’t seem like the Clippers would be in this position. They got off to another good start, and Leonard was aggressive early. He got to within 10 feet of the basket to hit his first jumper en route to 12 first-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with his three rebounds and two assists.
LA’s energy was palpable, and they had 11 transition points in the opening period despite only forcing two turnovers. The Clippers continued to hound Murray, while the Nuggets made a renewed emphasis to get him going rather than giving shots to their role players. That led to a lot of missed jumpers as Murray went 3-of-9 and was a team-worst minus-9 in his minutes.
The Denver bench made a bit of a run, but the Clippers kept a double-digit lead through the first half. The Nuggets found some life in the third quarter with Paul Millsap’s 14 points, and the Clippers lost their sense of self on offense. After assisting on 11 baskets in the first half, they only had four assists in the final 24 minutes.
The Clippers didn’t shoot as well in the second half, but Doc Rivers said the team simply lost its discipline. LA is still up 3-2 with another chance to win the series Sunday.